The largest dealer Mazda dealer in the world is not in Tokyo or Los Angeles or even Shanghai, but in Mascouche, Que.
Albi Mazda, which calls itself Le Géant (The Giant) is, I hate to say it, out in the middle of nowhere about an hour north of downtown Montreal. From this location, dealer-principal and owner Denis Leclerc sells an astonishing 5,500 new Mazdas and about 7,000 used cars every year - recession or not.
Leclerc has built up the business over 20 years investing about $40-million on land and buildings and $30-million advertising the Albi brand. You cannot open a newspaper or turn on a TV or radio in Montreal without hearing about Albi Le Géant.
The business has about 350 employees. The huge facility includes a coffee shop and a hair salon, but the whole operation, like virtually all car dealers in the Montreal region, is closed Saturdays and Sundays.
Leclerc's Albi Le Géant is already a legend at Mazda - the Japanese company would like to have a few more like him.
Vaughan: What's the secret in becoming the biggest Mazda dealer in the world?
Leclerc: Transparency and quickness.
Transparency means the customers can see their car, they can see what we are doing on their car and they know exactly what's going to happen on their car.
And there is no waiting at all.
That's on the service side of things.
The customers drive inside the building in their car.
We have 10 people which we call advisers who will talk to each individual customer.
The car will be processed in a second area before it goes to the technicians.
There are four service managers with total authority. They can give a customer a free engine if that's necessary.
They are well connected to send the car to the right place for the repair with the right mechanic.
I love that system. We save a lot of time for our customers and money for the company by solving the problem the first time.
One of our technicians was No. 1 in the United States for Mazda technical and he was No. 3 in Japan.
After the repair is made, there are two ladies who take the order and close it so there is no waiting for the invoice by the customer at the end.
So we're trying to offer a no-waiting, transparent process.
But people have to drive an hour from Montreal to get here. That's a big commitment of time.
But we usually carry about 1,500 cars in stock, so we usually have all models, all colours.
Plus you can drive half-an-hour out and be processed right away or maybe go somewhere else and you're going to wait half-an-hour or an hour.
So I think it's better to take the highway than to wait.
You're doing amazing volume now, but when the Mazda2 arrives you should do even better. It should do very well in Quebec.
We will sell 2,500-plus.
We'll jump from selling 5,500 new to probably 8,000.
We'll probably lose a few Madza3 customers who will buy a Mazda2. It's due next July and we are expanding our showroom and delivery area right now to be ready when it arrives.
It's going to do a lot of traffic because right now we don't have that kind of entry-level car.
You've just spent $5-million for a body shop. How does that pay?
We've got room for 40 cars in our body shop. We can paint eight cars an hour.
Years ago, bumpers used to be chrome. Now they're painted and we repaint them like a factory.
People also come in with door dents from parking lots. People like their Mazdas so they like to keep them clean and fix the dings. So we have to be able to finish the jobs quickly and do a job every hour.
This is really a service area for customers because you're not going to be able to make a big living out of it.
Albi has to be able to give that service to customers.
How is the recession affecting business?
I think it's not going to affect the places that take care of people.
Last year, we did 5,600 sales. We are currently running between 5,200 and 5,300.
The recession is in your head. If you fall into that pattern, you're going to be in recession.
I've got big bills to pay so no time to go into recession. But when we saw the recession coming we started building a new showroom for used cars.
We can put 30 cars downstairs and 70 cars upstairs but only Mazda products because this is a Mazda store. The other brands' vehicles will be outside.
Where did all your ideas come from?
When I was working for a dealership, I decided I had to have my own because I would correct things that weren't right.
And the way you do that is to listen to people.
I want to make sure that the ideas that come from my people will make it all the way to the top and we'll make the changes.
So I'm not the boss, I'm just the chief.
Michael Vaughan is co-host with Jeremy Cato of Car/Business, which appears Fridays at 8 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 2 p.m. on CTV.